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Single people with Asperger's get dating help

By Emma Midgley
BBC News

image captionMark Savage finds dating "draining" and stressful

Mark Savage has been on two dates recently and would like to meet a partner.

However, the 30-year-old from Berkshire said his dates were "draining and stressful".

Mr Savage has Asperger's syndrome, a condition which makes it hard for him to read facial cues or understand or respond to people's emotions.

"I have had one relationship, but it was quite short," he said.

"It takes me a while to judge people. I don't immediately respond to cues. I just can't jump into relationships."

Mr Savage said he had not sought relationships as a teenager and young adult, but had tried to "focus on his studies".

"I have A-levels in psychology, sociology, biology and I did media as well," he said.

"I tried studying ecology at the University of Sussex when I was 26, but I didn't gel with the people there."

image captionExperts from Oxford and Cambridge University believe Einstein displayed signs of Asperger's

In recent years Mr Savage has gained more confidence in dealing with people socially.

He now works part-time as an admin assistant and lives with his parents in Finchampstead.

"In the future, I would like to have a stable job, and be living with a partner.

"People with Asperger's, we don't chat or gossip. We can seem rather dry.

"Dating takes us out of our comfort zones, so it would be good to have help with that."

It is hoped that people like Mr Savage living in Berkshire will now get the help they need to start dating, following a successful bid for £50,000 of NHS funding.

The bid was put together by the Ark Charity in Crowthorne, which runs events including a weekly clubbing night in Bracknell for people with learning disabilities.

The charity hopes to use this money to help people who have been diagnosed with conditions such as autism or Asperger's syndrome to find a partner, with an initiative called the Umbrella Project.

The charity hopes to provide volunteer dating chaperones and to give sex education advice to its clients.

Scott Waller, who works for the Ark on the Umbrella Project, said a survey of 105 clients who used the Ark's services found two thirds of them wanted to meet a partner.

"We also know there is a need for sex and relationship education for people with learning disabilities as there were seven unplanned pregnancies among women with learning disabilities in Bracknell last year."

Ms Waller said a 2001 Department of Health survey showed that being unable to form relationships led to people with learning difficulties to have feelings of isolation and reduced self-worth.

"We have had people here who have met socially, we have had a couple of people who have got engaged," she said.

"A lot of people we help are on the autistic spectrum or have Asperger's syndrome.

"They behave differently to other people. They tend to have a limited social life and not that many achieve relationships."

The survey carried out by the Ark showed that major barriers to forming new friendships or relationships included lack of confidence, difficulties with transport, prejudice and stigma, money and always socialising with the same group of people.

"We hope the Umbrella Project will allow them to meet a wider range of people," said Ms Waller.

"We have about 40 - 50 learners who come to the Ark, we are trying to widen this circle to include more people."

More on this story

  • People with disabilities helped to date with NHS grant